No matter age or ability, it’s critical that schools make inclusivity a priority for all students. Parents often struggle to find inclusive environments for kids with special needs, which limits abilities to capture memories outside of the home or secure a space in traditional memory books like yearbooks or other school representation.
In-person schooling can be challenging for the special needs population, and virtual learning exacerbates common barriers for families. Nearly seven million students have a disability, which oftentimes lowers self-esteem and hinders socializing and building friendships with peers.
Whether it be attention deficit disorder or having a diagnosis like autism, where a child may struggle with communication and have repetitive behaviors, disabilities can position students to not be seen in the same way as other students. This not only creates an unfair advantage for these students, but it is sometimes a difficult road for parents, too, as most parents and guardians want their child to feel included or “part of the group.”
The value of inclusion
Students with disabilities make up 14 percent of national public school enrollment but can often be overlooked when it comes to traditional school activities. Inclusion is only truly effective when educators believe in the value of an inclusive educational model and choose to collaborate internally and with parents to get the support they need.
While virtual learning has altered the typical meaning of educational inclusion–where students spend most, if not all, of their time in the classroom with kids of all abilities–virtual learning has opened the doors to how technology can maximize students’ access to learning. Be it customizable yearbooks or “being in a classroom on Zoom,” all students have been able to experience learning together, which is a powerful thing.
It’s critical that typically developing students understand that although there may be differences between themselves and the special needs population, there are also a lot of similarities. All students benefit from engaging with peers and being in a system that values equity and opportunity in education. Equity recognizes every students’ unique gifts and different needs. And the beauty of this past year, especially with the heightened use of technology, is that schools are tapping into new and innovative ways to capture the silver lining moments of all students–including more creative and inclusive representation in annual yearbooks. This commitment to inclusion is a gamechanger for students with disabilities and gives parents the peace of mind knowing their child is welcomed and represented alongside their peers.
Provide inclusive settings in classes and extracurricular activities
Regardless of the timeline for when more in-person classes will take place, inclusion in any sort of classroom setting or within extracurricular activities is important. When typically developing students work alongside students with a disability, it creates immediate awareness around the fact that everyone learns differently and might require modifications or accommodations.
Mentor programs are one way for students to work alongside peers who may experience developmental delays. This kind of setup enables students of all abilities to feel seen and encouraged to learn. Inclusion in elective classes like art or music is also a way for typically developing students to serve as a buddy and learn about others’ abilities. Some children may have visual or hearing impairments, too, so it’s important to get a thorough understanding of those in a classroom and identify ways to promote a safe, encouraging environment for everyone.
Working with students with special needs teaches important life lessons, including empathy. One doesn’t need to hold a certain degree or achieve a specific accolade in order to meet the needs of others. Some students simply require more specialized education and care in order to reach their full potential.
Capture memories in a customizable yearbook
Some companies can capture every students’ memories–even memories during the pandemic–in a yearbook that reflects the school and makes each and every student the star of their own book. Through customizable yearbooks like this, even a non-traditional school year can be documented with students in makeshift classrooms at home, tuning into Zoom lessons, doing homework with their pet at their side or enjoying an outdoor recess with neighborhood kids.
Traditional yearbooks often only include a few photos of each student, and many students end up only included with a single school portrait. Students with disabilities are often overlooked or not represented in as many photos as the students who are involved in sports, clubs, and educational accomplishments. This is often unintentional, but is common, nonetheless. It’s critical that all students see themselves represented in the yearbook, a long-standing tradition for K-12 schools. Customizable yearbooks create more collaboration between teachers, parents and students and include all students without hidden bias.
While it must be an ongoing effort, it’s possible and necessary that schools take steps to ensure that all students feel included and that their school memories are positive ones – whether in-person or virtual.